Entry 651: Bodyless Head in Italian O.R.

Well it’s time once again to check in with our old pal, Dr. Sergio Canavero or, as I like to call him, “The Lunatic Italian Head Transplant Guy.”

I first introduced you to Dr. Canavero in July of 2013 in a post entitled “A Head of the Game.” That’s when he made news by suggesting that a human head transplant was theoretically possible.

To show you why you should read this blog religiously, that post included this very prescient sentence:

“If there’s anything scarier than the prospect of people like Donald Trump and Dick Cheney living forever, it’s the prospect of them living forever with their heads on the bodies of 20 year olds.”

Remember, that was before Trump even knew he was going to run for President, much less actually be President. The fact that he now is demonstrates that there are millions of Americans in dire need of Dr. Canavero’s procedure.

We next caught up with Dr. Canavero in September, 2015 in a post named “Heads or Tales?” He had now invented the one item he believed would be necessary to perform such a head transplant.

Glue.

Really.

It was called polyethylene glycol, but Dr. Canavero referred to it with the highly technical term ”my magic ingredient.” He had also teamed up with a Chinese crazy person named Dr. Xiaoping Ren, who had successfully transplanted mice heads, hopefully onto other mice. He even had a patient in mind, a Russian named Valery Spiridonov, a computer scientist who suffered from Werndig-Hoffman disease, a rare form of spinal muscular atrophy. At the time, the two doctors said they planned to perform the operation in 2017, just as soon as they developed some additional technology that would be needed, and Dr. Ren practiced on a primate or two.

Other scientists were not exactly on board with this. One, Arthur Caplan, director of medical ethics at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, called Dr Canavero, and I quote, “nuts.”

But Dr. Canavero (pictured above giving one of his patients a haircut) was undeterred. And now he’s back in the news with his announcement that he intends to operate later this year, just as promised in 2015. In the interim, Dr. Ren has transplanted a monkey head, although the monkey was kept alive for only 20 hours after the surgery “for ethical reasons.” I’m thinking those reasons may have included the monkey saying, upon awakening, “Pardon me, but do you happen to know where the mole on my nose has gotten to?”

Of course, the doctors can’t do anything until they come across a “brain dead, but physically healthy transplant donor,” which pretty much describes everybody involved in this story except Mr. Spiridonov, not to mention many of the people referred to in the second sentence of the fifth paragraph of this post.

Dr. Canavero says the whole procedure will take approximately “36 hours and 150 trained medical professionals.” This is as opposed to untrained medical professionals like, I suppose, actors from Grey’s Anatomy. It will also take about 15 million dollars and a hell of a health insurance policy.

Mr. Spirinodov and Dr. Canavero are working on raising funds for the operation. I think a Kickstarter campaign would be a good idea, possibly with rewards for investors that include pieces of Mr. Sprinodov’s former body (“Pledge $500 or more and get a kneecap. Only two available”).

Of course, Arthur Caplan of New York University is back to chime in. He speculates that “the different pathways and chemistry on the donor body will overwhelm the patient’s head, thus producing chemically-induced insanity.” So once again, Dr. Caplan is calling somebody “nuts.” And the “somebody” hasn’t even been created yet!

If I may be serious for a moment, I was of the opinion that it wouldn’t be hurting anybody for Dr. Canavero to try this. Well, Mr. Spirinodov might feel a little something, but he’s a willing volunteer. But then an article pointed out that “for the head transplant, you will need the whole donor’s body, one that is full of transplantable organs…What if these organs were distributed to 10 different patients needing different transplants?”

I’ll admit, I didn’t consider that. But, still, don’t you think Canavero should be allowed to try this just once, if only for the movie rights?

See you soon.

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